What You Don’t Need

By Sarah Cornwell

Reading from the Gospel of Luke, 3:15-22

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”


Do you know what threshing and winnowing are? I always had the general idea, but being one of those born-and-bred, sheltered city dwellers, I had to look it up. At harvest time, the threshing separates the grain from the stalks, and the grain is gathered. There is still a light husk encompassing the grain, and so winnowing — at least one old fashioned method — involves taking the winnowing fork and throwing the grain up into the air, allowing the wind to blow the lighter husk away and letting the heavier grain fall back down, now ready to be used.

In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist proclaims that the Messiah is coming, winnowing fork in hand. We may think we have made the cut with the threshing. Our lives have that good seed inside it. But the winnowing comes next. We are gathered up by Jesus, but we still have this husk of a shell clinging to us. Note that it is the husk, the light part that can so easily be carried off by the wind, that is the sinful part. So often, we think of sin weighing us down, when really it weighs no more than dust in the wind. It is our real selves, the selves created in the image of God, that have weight.

If you are feeling tossed about by life of late, it might possibly be the Lord at work, tossing you high into the air and letting that husk shake loose and be blown away. Have no fear and let it go. You don’t need it. It’s the stuff that’s left that is the good stuff.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have five children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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